National Geographic : 1967 Jul
National Geographic, July, 1967 suggest doubt about a person's competence? The stilt houses of Bang Chan rose in scat tered clusters, along klongs that led into the fields where the green rice stood three feet above the water line. We stopped far off in a klong six feet wide and turned our outboard motor off. A snow white egret flopped up lazily. The silence was total, at first. Then I heard bees. Fish jumping. Two kinds of birds, arguing. Voices to the right. Voices to the left. Bells. Somebody else's outboard. Dr. Phillips hadn't told me what a noisy place this was. Prasit pulled up a chunk of weed. "This is jawa. I ate it when I was a boy. Let's have some." It was crunchy, slightly bitter, almost nutty. Not bad. He pulled up a lotus flower and peeled the stem. Not bad either. "We can also eat the reeds," he said, "and the morning glories." We chugged on to a house amid palms and ducks. A little girl named Sumalee was being soaped by her mother, then rinsed in the greenish-gray water at her doorstep. She wore earrings, a necklace, and two bracelets, all gold, and a belt and anklets of silver. Her little brother was getting a haircut, from the father. The boy was dressed in a string. It went around his waist. "He got it when he was sick," said the father. "His body was very hot, so we took him to the wat. The lord abbot put this thread around him and now he is well." Most chil dren got well that way. Sumalee was having her face powdered by her mother, to make her skin beautiful. "The lighter the skin, the more beautiful," her mother said. "When we go out into the sun, we put on a hat or a piece of cloth." I said in America we like to lie in the sun, to get tanned. "That's very interesting," said the mother. "Why do you do that?" I said we think it's healthy; it makes us look athletic. Sumalee's mother said, "Well, I think your skin is very beautiful too." Teak and Oil Bring Wealth to North An overnight train ride took me to Chiang Mai-the second-largest city in Thailand, the big town of the north. Bangkok has 1,600,000 people-Chiang Mai barely 75,000. But then the whole country has only six towns of more than 20,000. Some 30 million Thai citizens live in the villages. The north has lushly forested mountains, some of them 6,000 feet high, with much teak. This beautiful wood has made the steep gabled old houses of Chiang Mai famous. The north also has oil, and a new refinery. Good rainfall fosters good tobacco as well as rice. In the valleys four substantial rivers flow together to form Menam Chao Phraya. Chiang Mai nestles on the Ping River. I arrived (Continued on page 100) Anything goes except biting in a Thai boxing match. Feet, elbows, fists, and knees fly as each fighter tries to weary or drop his opponent within five three-minute rounds. Cord around biceps holds good-luck charms. Spectators flock to this televised bout at Rajadamnern Stadium in Bang kok; Thai fans bet heavily on the outcome. In a calm before the storm (left), com batants at Udorn pay homage to their teachers and invoke the aid of spirits be fore the clash. The rugged national sport grew out of the unarmed, close-in fighting of medieval wars. At one time contestants studded their hand bindings with broken glass, "if agreeable to both."